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Top Turkish prosecutor refiles case to shutter pro-Kurdish party

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Turkey’s third largest party, faces the threat of closure once more after a top prosecutor refiled an indictment late Monday seeking to ban nearly 500 members from politics on terror-related charges.
Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) co-chair Pervin Buldan delivers a speech during the party's parliamentary group Meeting in Ankara on June 8, 2021. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP) (Photo by ADEM ALTAN/AFP via Getty Images)

ISTANBUL — A top Turkish prosecutor refiled an indictment with the Constitutional Court late Monday seeking the closure of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Turkey’s third largest party, on terror-related charges.

The original indictment was rejected in March for procedural omissions. Turkey’s Chief Public Prosecutor of the Court of Cassation Bekir Sahin resubmitted an expanded petition demanding a ban on nearly 500 HDP members from holding political office for up to five years for allegedly fostering ties with Kurdish militias.

The new 850-page indictment, which was filed on the six-year anniversary of the HDP’s entry into parliament after Turkey’s June 7, 2015, elections, also requested judges consider cutting financial aid to the HDP from the nation’s treasury amounting to about $7.7 million for 2021.

Sahin said in a written statement the HDP has committed crimes against the independence of the state, according to the state-owned Anadolu news agency, and a rapporteur was assigned to review the case shortly after the indictment was submitted. HDP officials have denied links to terrorist groups.

The move comes amid increasing government pressure on the HDP, the reincarnation of a long line of pro-Kurdish parties shuttered in Turkey on the grounds they presented a threat to national security.

In recent months, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Chair Devlet Bahceli, a key partner in Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling government coalition, has led calls to ban the party, doubling down Tuesday by saying the HDP must be “erased from Turkish politics.”

Speaking to MHP members Tuesday, Bahceli said the Constitutional Court did not have the option to reject the indictment a second time.

"This bloody and dark page should be closed, never to be opened," Bahceli said.

The calls for closure come after a large majority of HDP officials elected in the 2019 municipal elections were replaced by state-appointed trustees. Thousands of HDP members also faced trials on terror-related charges, and the party’s former co-chairs, Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, have been imprisoned since 2016.

More recently, HDP lawmaker Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu was stripped of his parliamentary seat in March and sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for a social media post he shared in 2016. Gergerlioglu’s son, Salih, said the lawmaker has been in a solitary cell in Ankara’s Sincan prison since his arrest in early April and has filed an application with the Constitutional Court for his release.

Salih said the Constitutional Court issued a "violation of rights" decision on the conviction of Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Enis Berberoglu, which saw the deputy reinstated to parliament in February, and he hoped a similar verdict would be reached for his father.

“We hope that the Constitutional Court will end this unlawfulness as soon as possible,” Salih told Al-Monitor.

The HDP received about 5.6 million votes in Turkey’s most recent elections in 2018, representing about 11.70% of the electorate. Following the refiling of the indictment to close the party, the European Parliament's Turkey rapporteur, Nacho Sanchez Amor, condemned the move in a tweet Tuesday, saying “it's a serious political mistake and irreversible blow to pluralism and democratic principles.”

CHP Chair Kemal Kilicdaroglu also criticized the petition, stating his party disapproved of any actions seeking to close political parties or preventing parties from participating in elections.

“If you see political parties as enemies and instruct the Supreme Court of Appeals to shut them down, there is no democracy there,” Kilicdaroglu said Tuesday.

Turkey’s next elections are currently scheduled for 2023, and some observers see attempts to shutter the HDP as a way to weaken or divide opposition parties ahead of the vote. At the same time, the nation’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and MHP allies are also considering drafts for a new constitution that could alter rules governing political parties and prevent some cooperation mechanisms in the opposition bloc, such as the transfer of deputies.

Details on the new constitution’s articles remain unclear, though Erdogan criticized the nation’s former parliamentary system in a televised interview June 1, saying “Turkey cannot find peace in the multiparty system.”

Hisyar Ozsoy, an HDP co-spokesperson for foreign affairs and a deputy for Diyarbakir, said the revived effort to ban his party was an attempt by the government to deflect attention from the nation’s economic troubles and numerous allegations lodged against high-level Ankara officials by fugitive mobster Sedat Peker via a stream of YouTube videos.

Lawmakers in the AKP-MHP ruling coalition voted down a parliamentary motion submitted by the HDP last month to investigate corruption allegations shared by Peker. Since then, the HDP has started a campaign calling on state officials to review the claims more closely.

In the meantime, Ozsoy said the HDP was preparing alternative options for its members and voters if the indictment leads to a trial.

“In the short run, it’s going to be difficult and it may be an advantage for the government to render the HDP dysfunctional right before the elections,” Ozsoy told Al-Monitor. “But the HDP is not just a couple of buildings and a headquarters; it is the people and the history of struggle and resistance that we represent. They can’t shut down that history and those people.”

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